June 25, 2010 by Marc Lamont Hill
Last week, while celebrating his first NBA championship, Ron Artest made a different kind of history within the Black community. During his post-game interview, the mercurial Los Angeles Lakers star gave a public shout-out to his psychiatrist, whom he credited for helping him successfully navigate the pressures of playing on one of the biggest stages in professional sports. In doing so, as Mychal Denzel Smith brilliantly points out in his recent essay, Artest may have created new space within the public sphere for discussing Black mental health without fear and shame.
The need for reshaping and reinvigorating the public conversation on Black mental health could not come a moment sooner. Despite comprising only 12 percent of the United States population, Black people represent more than 25 percent of the nation’s mental health needs. Over the past 30 years, Black male suicide rates have climbed by more than 200 percent. The depression rate among Black women is 50 percent higher than their white counterparts. Rates of somatization — the emergence of physical illness related to mental health — occur at a rate of 15 percent among both Blacks and women, as opposed to 9 percent among Whites.
The rising mental health needs among Black people are further compounded by the continued lack of mental health service utilization within the community. While only one-third of all Americans receive care for mental illness, Blacks remain statistically less likely to access proper mental health services than other racial groups.
These numbers suggest that the Black community is in the midst of a full-fledged mental health crisis.
Although it is necessary to shake the cultural stigmas that enable the current crisis— the view that mental health maintenance is anti-Black, anti-masculine, and anti-Christian— such work must be accompanied by an equally engaged effort to address the structural issues that compromise Black mental health. We must begin to spotlight the connection between mental health and other social problems plaguing the Black community. We must understand the collective power of social, cultural and institutional forces in producing, intensifying, and concealing the unique mental health issues confronted by Blacks in the United States.
While all racial and ethnic groups suffer from mental health issues, Blacks are a particularly high-risk population due to their overrepresentation in contexts of social misery. Currently, Blacks account for 40 percent of the country’s homeless population and nearly 50 percent of the prison population. Black children represent nearly 50 percent of all foster care and adoption cases. Additionally, almost 25 percent of Black youth are exposed to enough violence to meet the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. These conditions not only play a direct role in producing and exacerbating mental illnesses, they also create new levels of social marginalization and isolation that further distance vulnerable populations from the services that they need.
Poverty’s affect on mental health
Black mental health is further compromised by economic inequality. While 16 percent of the nation is uninsured, nearly 1 in 4 Blacks live without health insurance, thereby making it difficult to access appropriate mental health services. Blacks with health insurance still have average employer based coverage rates of only 50 percent, compared to 70 percent for their White counterparts. These conditions, combined with the disproportionate absence of living wages within the Black community, make mental health services financially nonviable for many Blacks.
While economically disadvantaged Blacks have access to government-run mental health resources, individuals often have to navigate an extremely bureaucratic and fragmented maze of mental health services. Those who ultimately receive services often do not obtain them through the actual health care system, but through agencies like public schools, welfare offices, and the court system— none of which have the appropriate resources. As a result, many poor Blacks receive uncoordinated, inconsistent, and ineffective levels of care that ultimately discourage them from utilizing the system.
Many of those in prison suffer from mental illness
In addition to poverty, the impact of the prison industrial complex on the current Black mental health crisis cannot be overstated. Beginning with President Reagan’s aggressive efforts to close mental hospitals and cut off federal aid to community mental health programs in the 1980s, the United States has witnessed a dramatic increase in its homeless population. Concurrent with this neo-liberal assault on the welfare state, neo-conservative lawmakers successfully aimed to criminalize ostensibly anti-social behaviors like panhandling, public drinking, and public urination, all of which are routinely linked to mental illness. (As with with nearly all criminal justice matters in the United States, arrests, convictions, and sentencing for these offenses are disproportionately assigned to poor Blacks and Latinos.) As a result, many individuals who would have previously been under medical supervision for their mental illnesses (including drug addiction) are now chattel within the for-profit prison industry.
June 25, 2010 by Marc Lamont Hill
Last week, I gave a graduation speech at Furness High School in Philadelphia, where I was once a teacher. Here’s a few excerpts:
June 8, 2010 by Marc Lamont Hill
In a recent interview, rapper Slim Thug unleashed a very disturbing attack on Black women, here’s an excerpt:
…Most single Black women feel like they don’t want to settle for less. Their standards are too high right now. They have to understand that successful Black men are kind of extinct. We’re important. It’s hard to find us so Black women have to bow down and let it be known that they gotta start working hard; they gotta start cooking and being down for they man more. They can’t just be running around with their head up in the air and passing all of us.
I have a brother that dates a White woman and he always be fucking with me about it saying, ‘Y’all gotta go through all that shit [but] my White woman is fine. She don’t give me no problems, she do whatever I say and y’all gotta do all that arguing and fighting and worry about all this other shit.’…
While many people dismissed it as a publicity stunt or the rant of an ignorant rapper, I felt compelled to respond to him in the form of an open letter.
A few days ago, you made comments in Vibe magazine that have caused a great deal of controversy. While I appreciate your willingness to offer your opinion in public, you made several statements that were not only unfair and untrue, but deeply damaging to our community. Normally, I would reach out to you privately, but since your comments were made in a very public place, I feel compelled to respond in the same manner.
As an artist who is respected by millions of fans, particularly young ones, I found your comments to be hurtful and irresponsible. For good or for bad, our children follow the lead of you and other artists for everything from fashion and slang to self-esteem, body image and relationships. Imagine how a young black girl feels to hear from you, her role model, that her “standards are too high” and that she should “bow down” and “settle for less.” Consider the pain that our beautiful brown skinned babies feel when Yung Berg says he doesn’t date “dark butts.” Think about the self-esteem of our community when Nelly refers to our mothers, sisters, and daughters as “Tip Drills.”
As celebrities, your public comments are not just your own. Instead they influence the choices, beliefs, and lives of an entire generation of young people who look to you for direction.
Of course, you have every right to say things that you think are true. The problem, however, is that there was very little truth in your comments.
In your interview, you talk about how much better white women treat their partners than black women. If what you’re saying is true, why do Whites have the highest divorce rate of any group? Do white men get tired of being treated like kings? In reality, it seems that you are buying into (and selling) a stale but dangerous ideal that constructs White women as ultra-feminine, loving, queens, and Black women as angry, selfish, and untrustworthy hoes.
June 8, 2010 by Marc Lamont Hill
Since the inauguration of President Obama, the Republican Party has committed itself to being the party of obstruction. From the refusal to cooperate on health care to the unprecedented number of filibuster threats, the GOP has made it clear they refuse to play ball as long as Democrats are in power.
More recently, however, Republicans have taken their resistance to another level. In addition to blocking all attempts at the legislation, the GOP has begun to paint every Obama move (or misstep) as a crisis of world-historical proportion. The two most recent examples of this tactic came over the past two weeks, in the wake of the BP oil spill and the controversy over the Pennsylvania Senate race.
In the case of the BP spill, which has quickly become the worst natural disaster in American history, Republicans are trumpeting the calamity as “Obama’s Katrina.” While compelling, such a narrative contradicts all available evidence. First, while the BP spill was entirely preventable, it could not have been prevented by President Obama.
The current rules regarding the granting of oil licenses, the running of oil rigs, and the shaping of federal policy on offshore are an inheritance of the Bush Administration. Also, unlike Hurricane Katrina, which was woefully mishandled by the Bush Administration, Team Obama has mounted an aggressive response to the crisis that includes technological innovation, public-private partnerships, full use of the military, and long term policy reform designed to increase regulation and oversight. While the Obama Administration has been far from perfect, the notion it has been asleep at the wheel borders on absurd.
In addition to the faux-Katrina crisis, the Obama Administration is also being accused of high crimes in the recent Pennsylvania Senate primary race between Joe Sestak and Arlen Specter. Since early March, when Representative Sestak matter-of-factly told a reporter that the White House offered him a job in exchange for dropping out of the Senate race, Republicans have accused President Obama of every crime short of treason and murder.
Despite the hyperbolic partisan rants of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, the Sestak scandal is far from Watergate-level. In fact, the promise of a political appointment in exchange for entering or exiting a high-profile race is one of the most common practices in local and national politics. As conservative George Will pointed out, “Politics is a transactional business… Candidates go to voters and say ‘you vote for me, I’ll do this for you’ that’s what we do in this business and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s called democracy and free government.” Will’s point, while refreshingly honest, is far from earth shattering. Anyone remotely connected to big-game politics knows that quid pro quos are not only common, but expected among powerbrokers. Nevertheless, nearly every member of the GOP has feigned outrage and indignation at the thought that a politician might use power and influence to get things done.
Of course, the Obama Administration is not blameless in this recent string of teapot tempests. In the case of BP, the Obama Adminstration’s history of corporate back rubbing, combined with its initially tepid response to the oil spill, opened the door for political opportunists to cry Katrina. With the Sestak controversy, the President and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs provided the kind of wildly ambiguous and shifty responses (“I don’t know much about it, and I’m not prepared to talk about it, but we did nothing wrong.”) normally offered by guilty people. While they were likely afraid to simply admit that they were playing politics as usual, their indirection produced enough of a stench to attract partisan vultures.
This recent wave of events speaks to a persistent problem among the left. Instead of setting the agenda and controlling public conversations, we remain locked in the same reactionary posture. Rather than discussing the dangers of drilling, environmental abuse, unchecked corporate maneuvering, Democrats are wasting every news cycle convincing the public that President Obama isn’t criminally negligent or incompetent. In addition to being bad strategy, such behavior does nothing to fix the real problems of the day.
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